My life is more than academic work…

Hopefully this website will meet the needs of academics trying to track down details on some of my research, family and friends interested in the latest photographs, and many others with whom I have a relationship through my varied roles. I’ll say a little about some of these roles on this page.


Name: Trevor Cairney OAM

Married to: Carmen

Nationality: Australian

Education: BA, M.Litt, PhD, GAICD

Unis: UNE, Newcastle

Occupation: Master (CEO)


A teacher and academic

My professional life has had three major strands – teaching and research, university senior management, and leadership of business organisations. After undertaking three degrees, in 1981 I was offered my first job in a university teaching English Language and special education and I’ve been in Universities ever since conducting research, teaching and filling other posts. Since this first position I’ve held many posts in Universities including positions as Dean of Education and Pro Vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of Western Sydney (1989-2002).

I’m currently the Master of New College at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. My day-to-day role is being responsible for running this independent Christian residential college. One of my greatest and most satisfying challenges was the development and building of a major postgraduate building to expand the work of New College. This opened in January 2009 and was home for Carmen and me in 2009. I now have responsibility for 565 residents who are all UNSW students drawn from 50+ nations. My residents are the most gifted amongst the gifted who have achieved in fields as diverse as sport, the arts and in public service. I also hold an Adjunct Professorship in the School of Education at UNSW which serves as my academic ‘home’ for ongoing research and scholarship and where I supervise postgraduate students.

A researcher

I have had two major research interests during my academic career. The first has been research in early language development with a particular interest in how children become literate, how families support this development, and how language and literacy is shaped within social settings and as an extension of relationships. This was a result of my first career as a teacher. My second area of interest is regional development and began with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in urban, regional and economic geography. This interest was rekindled in the 1990s when my senior management positions at the University of Western Sydney led me to embrace the University had in the regional development of Greater Western Sydney (GWS). During this time I continued my language research situated primarily in families. This was underpinned by an understanding that education is important and that it can have an impact on individual lives, families and communities.

As I lead the University’s research development I saw how vital the university’s role was in regional engagement with business, industry, government and community groups. This period saw me develop strong relationships with business and industry groups and rekindle my interest in innovation. This led to a wide range of appointments to industry and business groups. I was elected to the board as a director in 1997 and was eventually elected as President and Chair of the Board in 2001. I served for 9 years as the President and Chair of what is now called the Sydney Business Chamber which is Australia’s oldest business organisation (established 1825). One of my greatest challenges was to work with others to merge the Sydney Chamber of Commerce with Australian Business Ltd to form two new organizations, the Sydney Business Chamber and the NSW Business Chamber.  For the last seven years I have served as a director of NSWBC and I was elected the Deputy President in 2014.

Business Roles

My involvement in business was a direct result of my regional development research and my role as Pro Vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of Western Sydney and in particular the Centre for Regional Research & Innovation (CRRI) . As I led research on the region of Western Sydney and engaged with business and business organisations I ended up on many boards and committees as we sought to integrate UWS research interests with the needs of the Greater Western region of Sydney.

Master of New College

In early 2002 I decided that it was time to move on from the University of Western Sydney and enter a third phase of my professional life by accepting the position of Master of New College at the University of NSW. What was attractive about New College was that it offered an opportunity in the one position (!) to draw on my experience as a university teacher, researcher, manager, my desire to support young people as they learn and grow, and my Christian faith. Thankfully, I was appointed and commenced in August 2002.

I now lead what I think is the finest residential college in Australia.  This role brings with it much diversity and challenge.  But the great joy is that I get to be involved leading a community of 565 wonderful young adults enrolled at UNSW in a variety of disciplines.


I continue to work as an academic and to explore and write about language and literacy development, children’s literature and what it means for educational institutions to engage with regions, communities and families. This website provides information and publications from my past and present and ideas for the future. I hope you find it of interest.

Husband, father and grandfather

I grew up on the outskirts of Newcastle (NSW, Australia). My father was a Scottish coal miner like his other 9 brothers and his father. He married my mother who was the daughter of shop keepers also of Scottish descent. After trying a very short stint as a cadet Mechanical Engineer, I became a teacher, met my wife during training and we were married. I began teaching the same year. Two daughters followed and then six wonderful grandchildren. I left teaching for a university career which has taken many forms (teacher, researcher, head of two research centres, Dean of the Faculty, Pro Vice-chancellor (Research & Development) and more recently a CEO and University College Master.

My Christian faith is a central part of who I am, that’s why after a long academic career as an academic I left senior management and full-time research to run an Anglican not-for-profit organisation dedicated to sustaining university colleges. I’ve been Master and CEO of New College now for 13 years. What was to be an interim stage before I perhaps went back to full-time academic work, has become a rewarding and enriching new phase in my life.